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And shame it is, if a preest take keep,44
(From THE PROLOGUE to the CANTERBURY Tales.)
THER was in Asie, in a gret citee, Amonges Cristen folk a Iewerye, Sustened by a lord of that contree, For foule usure, and lucre of vilanye, Hateful to Crist, and to his compagnye: And thurgh the strete men mighten ride or wende For it was free, and open at eyther ende. 5 contemptuous. 46 overbearing. 47 baughty. 48 over fine. A litel scole of Cristen folk ther stood Doun at the ferther ende, in which ther were Children an heep, y-comen of Cristen blood, That lernèd in that scole yeer by yere, Swiche manere doctrine as men used there: This is to seyn, to singen and to rede, As smale children doon in hir childhede.
Among thise children was a widwes sone, A litel clergeon, seven yeer of age, That day by day to scole was his wone, And eek also, wheras he saugh th’image Of Cristes moder, had he in usage, As him was taught, to knele adoun, and seye, His Ave Marie, as he goth by the weye.
Thus hath this widwe hir litel sone y-taught Our blisful Lady, Cristes moder dere, To worship ay, and he forgat it naught: For sely childe wol alday sone lere. But ay, whan I remembre on this matere, Seint Nicholas stant ever in my presence, For he so yong to Crist did reverence.
This litel child his litel book lerninge, As he sate in the scole at his primer, He “Alma redemptoris" herde singe, As children lernèd hir antiphoner: And, as he dorste, he drough him ner and ner, And herkned ay the wordes and the note, Til he the firste vers coude al by rote.
Noght wiste he what this latin was to saye, For he so yong and tendre was of age; But on a day his felaw gan he preye Texpounden him this song in his langage, Or telle him why this song was in usage: This preyde he him to construe and declare, Ful ofte tyme upon his knees bare.
His felaw, which that elder was than he, Answerde him thus: “This song, I have herd seye, Was makèd of our blisful Lady fre, Hir to salue, and eek hir for to preye To ben our help, and socour whan we deye. I can no more expound in this matere: I lerne song, I can but smal grammere."
"And is this song makèd in reverence Of Cristes moder?” said this Innocent. “Now certes I wol do my diligence To conne it all or Cristemasse be went, Though that I for my primer shal be shent, And shall be beten thryes in an houre, I wol it conne, our Ladie for to honoure.”
His felaw taughte him homward prively
As I have seyd, thurghout the lewerye
Our firste foo, the serpent Sathanas,
Fro thennes forth the Iewes han conspyrèd
I say that in a wardrobe they him threwe,
“O martyr, souded in virginitee! Now mayst thou singen, and folwen ever in on The White Lamb celestial,” quod she, “Of which the gret Evangelist, Seint John In Pathmos wrote, which sayth that they that goon Beforn this Lamb, and singe a song al newe, That never fleshly woman they ne knewe.”
This poure widwe awaiteth al that night
With modres pitee in hir brest enclosed
She freyneth and she preyeth pitously
O grete God, that parformest thy laude
The Cristen folk that thurgh the strete wente, In coomen, for to wondre upon this thing: And hastily they for the Provost sente. He cam anon withouten tarying, And herieth Crist, that is of heven king, And eek his moder, honour of mankynd, And after that the Iewes let he bynde.
This child with pitous lamentacioun Up-taken was, singing his song alway: And with honour and gret processioun, They carien him unto the next abbay. His moder swowning by the bere lay; Unnethe might the peple that was there This newe Rachel bringe fro his bere.
With torment and with shamful deth eche on This Provost doth thise Iewes for to sterve, That of this morder wiste, and that anon; He nolde no swiche cursednesse observe: Yvil shal he have, that yvil wol deserve. Therfor with wilde hors he dide hem drawe, . And after that he heng hem by the lawe.